Leading up to the start of the Ukrainian Crisis and the invasion/annexation of Crimea by Russia, there were many, including this writer, who looked favorably on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to expand Russian soft power to the benefit of the Intentional Community as exemplified by his role in addressing the Syrian Civil War through peace talks and the sheltering of whistleblower Edward Snowden. With the advent of the Ukrainian Crisis, hopes of greater constructive international engagement on behalf of Russia were dashed. Although the West largely views Putin’s twisting of the realities in Ukraine as ridiculously unbelievable and thoroughly divisive, this interpretation is not necessarily shared globally.
People process information intellectually and emotionally, but they also interpret novel facts, concepts, and real-time events intuitively. This means most people, most of the time, react to news in ways consistent with their own preconceived notions and personal experiences instead of properly analyzing the data as part of broader framework, even when there are obvious contradiction with their beliefs and the facts. This is seen in American politics where ideologically aligned news firms like Fox and MSNBC attract likeminded viewers with clearly biased commentary, often rationalized to be objective news stories. As such, it takes a great deal of evidence and proper framing for most people to react differently to news that contradicts their views. Consequently, Russia’s PR campaign may not be effective in the West, but it has been a way for Putin to continue to build Russian soft power and credibility elsewhere.
Offering humanitarian aid to Eastern Ukraine is very much a great way for Putin to reframe the Ukrainian Crisis in terms favorable to Russian interests, including his efforts to aggressively expand and intensify its influence. In the wake of Russia’s self-imposed sanctions against Western agricultural goods, which the West essentially mocked as the ban does more to hurt Russian consumers while bolstering the effects of Western sanctions, Russian food aid is also a means of depicting a strong Russia so unreliant on Western goods and capable of providing for its own needs that it can give generously to Ukrainians supposedly being brutalized by its Western-backed government. That said, the thoroughly valid fear of a Russian humanitarian mission being used to implement a military operation clearly would drive the Ukrainian government to resist Russian aid, thus Putin has engineered a situation where Ukraine fulfills Russia’s portrait of the former Soviet state under siege.
Although it is too soon to tell if Putin is actually preparing for an invasion or engineering a way for Russia to deescalate the crisis without admitting wrongdoing, this latest Russian gesture was clearly designed to agitate and vilify Western powers. Despite Putin’s success with using Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations to vilify America for the reckless overreach of our national security apparatus, making Russia look good at the expense of others is not the best way to bolster Russian soft power, especially when the West is heavily sanctioning Putin’s government and associates. Most of America’s minor international partners are fickle when it comes to their loyalty to the United States, but this is because we live in a capitalist world where governments have been trained to continually seek out whatever partnerships and opportunities best support their interests. As such, a PR loss for America is not necessarily a PR gain for Russia, though continued broken relations with the West is definitely a major loss for Russia.
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